About three years ago, Jacquelyn Sullivan found out she was going to die, and she decided to keep on teaching.
Diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2013, Sullivan stepped away from her classroom at Clara Barton Open School and underwent treatment for a year. It didn’t work.
“As soon as she found out the cancer would be coming back, she went back to work,” said Charles Krenz, her domestic partner for the past 28 years.
Sullivan, a quick-witted dancer, gardener, reader and beloved third- and fourth-grade teacher, died Oct. 10. She was 54.
A native of northeast Minneapolis who graduated from Edison High School, she danced with the Minnesota Dance Theater as a teenager and joined its Company II after she graduated, training under Loyce Houlton before going to the University of Minnesota to study to become a teacher.
“I think that really sparked her interest in teaching,” said Jane Casserly McMonagle, who first met Sullivan when they were 11 and is now dance director for Lundstrum Performing Arts. “Something at Minnesota Dance Theater helped us all want to pass on that experience of teaching.”
Sullivan’s first teaching job was as a dance instructor at the Sheridan School. She and Krenz met working on crossword puzzles at the Muddy Waters coffee shop on Lyndale Avenue.
The family moved to Corsica, S.D., for a couple of years so she could work on an after-school program. “Kids are just naturally excited about learning,” she told the local newspaper there. “We want to give everybody a great start and the tools they need for success.”
In 2002, the family returned to Minneapolis, where Sullivan took a job at Barton. Diane Bagley, the school’s principal, said in a message to parents and students that Sullivan was a “fierce teacher, leader and learner” who “built a strong inclusive classroom and extended family community.”
Once, when Sullivan perceived that Bagley was working long hours, she pulled her principal aside and reminded her, warmly, that she also needed to spend time with her own young children.
“Not only was she thinking about the school where she spent the majority of her career, but as a newer principal with young kids, she wanted to make sure I took time to be with my own children and nurture those relationships,” Bagley said. “She breathed life into anything she touched.”
Sullivan read constantly. She liked a good movie and sitting on a dock with a fishing pole.
“She could say one phrase that would size up a situation and everyone would burst into laughter,” Casserly McMonagle said.
Sullivan started the 2017 school year as she normally did, shopping for school supplies and opening her classroom a week before Labor Day. On Sept. 9, as the cancer overtook her body, she ate her last bite of solid food, a tablespoon of chicken noodle soup on a trip to Duluth to tour the Glensheen Mansion and look for agates along Lake Superior.
In her last days she refused to stop living. She baked apple crisp and banana bread even when she couldn’t eat. In September, when the temperature broke 90 degrees, she demanded that Krenz take her swimming in Cedar Lake. She had martinis with friends.
“It was truly a belligerent confrontation,” Krenz said of Sullivan’s battle with cancer.
Sullivan is survived by Krenz, their daughter Aidan Connor Sullivan, son Charles Henry (Hank) Sullivan, her parents John and Barbara Sullivan, two brothers, a sister and seven nieces and nephews.